A Measure of Building Intelligence

A smart building uses shared information to improve operations. A new online tool rates a building’s intelligence and identifies ways to enhance it

By Karen Kroll  

What gets measured gets managed. The success of the ENERGY STAR and LEED rating systems have demonstrated the truth of that axiom in the facilities field over the past few years. Both programs started from popular goals — energy efficiency and green buildings — and developed clear criteria that measured how well a building achieved those goals.

Since it was launched, ENERGY STAR has become a widely recognized standard for energy performance, and LEED has triggered a boom in green building. One reason for the success of the two programs is that they create a roadmap for improvement. ENERGY STAR is used by facility executives to identify opportunities for improvement and to justify investments, while LEED has given facility executives a target to shoot for and certification from a third party when a building hits that target.

Another rating system hopes to spur the design of more intelligent buildings by offering a standardized, objective way to answer the question, “How smart is this building?” The Building Intelligence Quotient (BiQ) is an online tool that allows facility executives to assess the intelligence of their buildings by answering a set of 315 questions covering all aspects of facility operations. Armed with this information, facility executives can judge how well their systems are operating and sharing information, and determine where to focus their efforts to improve performance.

Most facility executives would probably understand the phrase “intelligent building” at a basic level. It typically refers to a building in which the building systems are integrated and share operating information so that each system knows what is happening with the others. “An intelligent building has an infrastructure that facilitates an exchange of information between the various building automation systems and the utilities that they are connected to,” says David Katz, prime consultant with Sustainable Resources Management and one of the developers of BiQ.

Communications Technology

The concept of intelligent buildings existed long before the technology was implemented. Today, communications is the engine that drives building intelligence. It has really become another utility like electricity, plumbing and HVAC, says Frank Spitzer, technical consultant with IBI Group and another developer of the tool.

He provides an example of how an intelligent building might operate in real life. Say a fire alarm goes off at 7:30 on a Monday night in December. Because it’s after business hours, many lights in the building have been turned off. In an intelligent building in which the systems are integrated, the lights would go back on, allowing occupants to easily exit the building. The security system would unlock all doors from the inside, making it easier for occupants to get out. At the same time, however, the security system could keep the doors to certain areas, such as the data centers, locked from the outside. That would thwart opportunists who would like to use the commotion caused by the alarm to sneak in and steal computer equipment.

A building’s intelligence level can be considered as a point along a spectrum. At one end are those highly intelligent buildings in which most systems are automated and integrated. In the middle are moderately intelligent buildings in which a few systems share information, and at the far end of the spectrum are buildings in which each system operates independently.

BiQ is important because it provides the first standard definition of an intelligent building. At this point, just a handful of truly intelligent buildings exist in North America, with a few more in Asia, Spitzer says. One building that would rank high on the BiQ is the Barrie Molson Centre in Ontario, he says. Among the features of the 4,200-seat venue is the ability for one facility employee to remotely turn on and off all the monitors located throughout the building, including those in the concession stands and other areas. “Every one is controlled by a single key stroke,” Spitzer says.

Similarly, one person can turn on the lights throughout the facility from a central station. The emergency system is integrated with the public address system. In an emergency, the PA system automatically plays a pre-recorded message telling occupants what actions to take.

About BiQ

Given that a common set of attributes define intelligent buildings, it made sense to develop an independent rating system that would provide facility executives a means of evaluating the intelligence and integration of their buildings’ systems, Katz says. After all, integrated and intelligent systems should make a building less expensive to operate, which would give facility executives another tool to identify steps to boost a building’s operating efficiency.

BiQ begins with general information questions, such as the location and size of the building and the number of occupants. Then the questions zero in on the building’s systems and operations. Among the questions:

  • Does the building support isolated ground power distribution?
  • Does the building staff receive ongoing training on operating the building’s systems?
  • Is there a horizontal distribution of communication systems that makes it possible to readily relocate distribution to any location?
  • Can the building globally control access privileges by changing the building operating mode?

Each question is allotted a certain number of points based on its importance relative to other areas. The total number of points possible is 1,000. Once the questions are completed, the system generates a report that lists the building’s rating, and identifies systems that help to increase the intelligence of the building, as well as those that don’t.

BiQ’s structure is based on the Green Globes system used to rate the energy and green attributes of buildings. The system was originally developed by ECD Energy & Environment, Skopek says. “BiQ uses the same online protocol as Green Globes.”

Buildings that score between 85 and 100 percent on the BiQ are considered platinum. Those scoring between 70 and 84 percent rate gold, while buildings whose scores fall between 51 and 69 percent are silver.

Starting Point

Reaching platinum won’t be possible for all buildings. Instead, the BiQ can be a starting point facility executives can use to evaluate building operations and take steps to improve, says Ron Zimmer, Continental Automated Buildings Association’s (CABA) president and chief executive officer.

At this point, BiQ focuses on commercial office buildings. Eventually, it may be modified so that it applies to other types of facilities, says King.

Before making BiQ commercially available, the Consortium sought input from several large building development firms. They tested the tool to verify that it accurately reflected their understanding of an intelligent building. Their input was incorporated into the final product.

BiQ is just one tool, along with LEED, ENERGY STAR and Green Globes, that facility executives can use to evaluate a building’s function and operation. BiQ also can be used with the Life Cycle Cost Assessment Tool from R.S. Means. This tool provides an estimate of the savings that could result if best practices and intelligent systems were deployed in a particular building, says Zimmer. Currently, this tool is in development and being tested.

Facility executives who want to take BiQ to the next level can work with an independent validation firm. These firms will physically evaluate 170 technical aspects of the building’s systems over the course of several days, Katz says. The cost of the validation process is $8,000, plus expenses. Completing a validation process helps ensure that the BiQ rating accurately reflects the building and will make the building eligible for CABA’s BiQ award program. In addition, the BiQ Consortium currently is working with the Appraisal Institute to determine how the validation process can meet the Institute’s third-party validation requirement.

The independent evaluator reviews the BiQ report, physically examines the systems addressed in the report, and accepts or rejects each answer. The evaluator then reviews opportunities for improvement, and validates the final BiQ, once any needed corrections are made.

Value of Intelligence

Granted, answering 300-plus questions and potentially engaging an independent validation firm will cost both time and money. Why do it? The primary reason is that a building’s value should increase as its intelligence does, says Spitzer. “You can rent or sell it for more.”

The Consortium still is in the process of gathering data that show this. However, many already believe a building that operates efficiently and productively is worth more than one that doesn’t. After all, if a building uses energy efficiently, whoever pays the electric bills — the owner or the tenants — will save money.

Moreover, an intelligent building allows the building owner to more accurately allocate expenses, Spitzer says. For example, if the lighting system records which lights are on at what times, lease agreements could be written so that the building owner pays for common area lighting during regular working hours, and the tenant covers the cost other times.

At the same time, an intelligent building offers occupants a more productive working environment, says Zimmer. Indoor air quality is high and temperatures are optimal.

However, taking full advantage of an intelligent building means shifting one’s time horizon from a few years to 20 or 30, says King. That’s because, although the systems that make up an intelligent building tend to cost more initially, they save operating expenses over the life of the building. For instance, coordinating the lighting, HVAC and access control systems so that the lights and heating or air conditioning systems turn off when a building is unoccupied saves both money and energy, year after year. That’s definitely smart thinking.


Founding Fathers

A trio of volunteers — David Katz, prime consultant with Sustainable Resources Management; Frank Spitzer, technical consultant with IBI Group; and Jiri Skopek, program developer with ECD Energy & Environment — known as The Building Intelligence Quotient Consortium developed BiQ. The Appraisal Institute was a founding member of the BiQ Advisory Committee. Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is administering BiQ, says communications director Rawlson O’Neil King.

The licensing fee for the BiQ varies with the number of buildings to be ranked. It costs $700 for the first building, $650 each for two to ten buildings, and $600 each for 11 or more buildings. Or a company can pay $11,000 for unlimited use for a year. Rates are lower for endorsing associations.

In addition, firms that complete BiQs for multiple buildings can purchase a portfolio analysis that compares the results of each BiQ. As of mid-August, the pricing for this analysis hadn’t been finalized.

— Karen Kroll

Connectivity is Key to Intelligent Buildings — and Campuses

More than 20 years ago, the intelligent building was talked about as a new concept for buildings that were effective and efficient in the areas of communications, information technology and building automation. Today, the concept of intelligent business campuses is coming of age as industries seek out high performance real estate platforms to launch and maintain state-of-the-art facilities that support their core businesses.

Many in real estate have yet to understand this shift to intelligent amenities that include broadband connectivity, diverse power sources and other communications-based applications in single commercial properties; still less do they grasp newer campuses of synergistic businesses and functional operations where intelligent buildings have now been clustered instead of built in a stand-alone environment.

One of the key ingredients is broadband connectivity and the ability to add this concept upfront along with power requirements as part of the overall master planning of a new campus environment.

Ten years ago, site selection teams did not have “broadband connectivity” in their top 20 issues for choosing a location. In the last couple of years, it has risen to one of the top three issues. Areas that do not have adequate access to connectivity are starting to feel the loss of interest by companies that are locating or re-locating their facilities.

To a property manager trying to lease up the building, having broadband connectivity creates a clear market differentiation that will attract a higher caliber tenant, which in turn means a higher occupancy rate and more profitable building.

In one example, 60 Class A buildings have available space in a county just outside Chicago. If you require broadband connectivity as an amenity, the number of possible buildings drops to five. That lowers the choices for potential space dramatically.

In soft markets, the availability of amenities like this will circumvent the traditional approach of dealing with competition by lowering rent.

Real estate development and marketing have to adapt to fit the dynamic demands of prospective tenants dealing with the global economy. In some parts of the United States, there is a multilevel government concern for regional sustainability and job growth. This has created a new unity in community development between municipalities, counties and the developers of business and industrial parks.

Based on activities by some local governments in the United States, it appears that smaller cities are realizing these issues and acting upon them faster than the larger ones. Fort Wayne, Ind., which has a population of 252,000, has been quietly upgrading its infrastructure since 2000.

Already, remote office packages for people who work at home are available at speeds of 30Mbps and 50Mbps; the short-term goal is to offer 1Gbps to the home. Network infrastructure upgrades open doors for companies like Raytheon and ITT to expand operations in Fort Wayne.

The importance of being in the right location now includes being connected at a high-speed access point to communicate with global customers, clients and suppliers. Just as locations were judged on their proximity to good transportation, seaports and roads for centuries, they now must also be adjacent to information highways and have network infrastructures that tie buildings and communities together.

— James Carlini is a certified Infrastructure Consultant and has advised on projects including a six-building complex in Silicon Valley for the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Development Company, the Chicago 911 Center and the DuPage National Technology Park.

Karen Kroll, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.

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  posted on 9/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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